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Authors: Sabrina Darby

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Caroline and the Duke: A Regency Short Story

BOOK: Caroline and the Duke: A Regency Short Story
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A Widow Determined to be Merry
At the urging of her best friend, Caroline, Lady Ballister, seeks a lover with no emotional attachments. After all, experience has taught her that love is a fickle, pointless thing.

A Duke Determined to Marry
Sutbridge has wanted Caroline for ten years and, now that she is once again free, is determined to make her his wife. But will he settle for her body, or wage a war for the most important treasure of all: her heart?

CAROLINE AND THE DUKE
A Regency Short Story
Sabrina Darby

 

CAROLINE AND THE DUKE: A Regency Short Story
© 2013 by Sabrina Darby

Book Cover Design by Seductive Designs
Stock Image copyrights (couple): © Jenn LeBlanc/Illustrated Romance
Stock Image copyrights (background): © Qweek

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owners and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

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Dedication: For my son, who has changed my life in all the right ways.
CONTENTS

Caroline and the Duke
Other books by Sabrina Darby
Excerpt from Entry-Level Mistress

CAROLINE AND THE DUKE

“Yes, once I was seventeen and brimming with stupidity,” Caroline admitted. The rapid flutter of her eyelashes blurred the brightly lighted ballroom and left her with a mild ache behind the eyes, but the gesture had been worth it. Of course, no physical action could reveal the depths of her derision for Bath’s marriageable youth. Perhaps she didn’t care for the way time had hollowed out the rosy curve of her cheek or left its mark in the tiny creases at the corners of her mouth, but she would never wish to turn back the clock, to once again be the hopeful, naïve young lady who had fallen in and out of love with the movement of her fan.

“You think you are any less susceptible to romantic idiocy now?” Julia asked archly. Her friend’s voice held the distinct mocking tone that usually led to a dare. And since they were both currently watching the wickedly handsome Lord Sutbridge dance with one of those unfortunate seventeen-year-old innocents, Caroline suspected danger lurked in these waters.

“I make no pretension to wisdom, darling,” she said, glancing away from Sutbridge to note all the other couples on the floor, all the maidenly blushes and masculine wiles. “What time, however, has gifted me is experience. As a girl, the mere touch of a man’s hand on mine sent my pulse fluttering,” she paused for effect, liking the shape of the sentence, of the image her words projected, “and my imagination soaring into the wilds of fantasy. I know now that love is a lie, but passion and lust are real and to be desired above all things. I know now that men live their true lives outside of marriage, in the warm beds of women they pay and honor the more because of it.”

“So you wouldn’t marry again?”

Caroline bit the inside of her cheek. Julia was intentionally drawing her out and there must be some larger purpose to this. Their friendship had always been that tense balance of devotion and competition.

“Unless he were a duke, a wealthy one at that, why, having finally gained some measure of freedom, would I subject myself to such bondage again? I’ve done my duty. Given my late tyrant of a husband his heir and spare.”

“Really, Caro, I won’t let you near my daughter with that sort of speech.”

Caroline laughed, pleased that she finally had some sort of unmeasured reaction from her friend. “You, with your string of lovers and a husband still sharing your bed on the odd night? You are one to talk.”

“Lovers are perfectly acceptable.”

Caroline turned away, the air in the room suddenly oppressive and her chest ridiculously tight. How quickly a mood could change. She blinked back the hot sting of self-pitying tears. For all her playful words, the truth remained. At the advanced age of nearly thirty, she was now a widow. She had spent the most attractive years of her life on a man who had been horrid to her, who had used her body for the business of procreation and then spent his pleasure and money on his mistress. Caroline spoke of passion and lust being real, but she knew the sensations only as desires unfulfilled. If it weren’t for the fierce pleasure her own hand between her thighs gained her, she would think the attainment of passionate fulfillment as much a lie as love.

“Why don’t you take one, Caro?”

And there it was, what Julia had been angling toward all this time.

“Sutbridge, I suppose?” Caroline choked his name out, past the heat that swept across her body and made simple words nearly impossible to form. Julia knew, of course, of Caroline’s long-ago fascination with the man. He had been a facet of that youthful stupidity during which she had been utterly consumed by her ridiculous infatuation. She had thought he held her in some regard. Indeed, she knew he still did. Only, she hadn’t had the luxury of waiting for him. At twenty, a young man may idle away his years of immaturity. At eighteen, a young lady must make a proper match. Especially if her impoverished parents are dependent upon that union for their income.

“A wonderful choice,” Julia agreed, sounding like the cat that got the cream. Caroline glanced at her and found confirmation in the small smile that played on her friend’s lips. “I hear my brother is exceptional in bed.”

Of course, Caroline had heard that too. Over the years, the gossip had plagued her. Perhaps if she had never seen him again after her marriage…but instead, it was as if fate conspired to continually throw them together. There were the usual social events that thrust them into each other’s company. Then there were the more private moments: a month at Julia’s country estate, winters in Bath, a season in Brighton, a week at a travelers’ inn during a storm.

The last had been only a year after her marriage, when she had been thickening with child and leaving town for the country. She couldn’t remember why Sutbridge had been there, miles from London. This season in Bath, too, seemed destined to throw them together.

Sutbridge, she thought, his very name a sigh in her chest.

“I know I’m prejudiced in his favor,” Julia continued, her voice a familiar and teasing hum over the other sounds of the ball. “But just look at him.”

With his great height, Sutbridge nearly dwarfed the room. He was of an age with her but time had favored him. The few lines on his face only made him look more of a man and she had found that manliness excited her pulse far more than his earlier youthful beauty.

“And, Caro, he is a duke, which even you admit adds to a man’s charms.”

The room was not large––only two long carpets were necessary to cover the distance during less active functions––and the numbers at the dance not as many as the hostess would likely have preferred. Of course, this was Bath and most gatherings were at the assembly rooms, not in these private, cramped homes.

Caroline watched his progress across the floor. It was utterly wrong, but there had been nights when her husband moved his clammy body over hers that she had imagined what such intimacy would be like with Sutbridge instead of Oliver.

So why not? Why not pursue the promise of their youth with the freedom her widowhood had bought?

She followed instinct, and in the lull between dance sets left Julia to her own devices. She brushed against her quarry purposefully. In that instant he was familiar and strange all at once, and the giddiness of early attraction blossomed as heat in her cheeks.

“The garden,” she whispered without pleasantries, aware that he knew exactly who stood to his right.

“This dance is promised.” She didn’t look at him and chance betraying that giddiness, but she found the familiar warmth and languor of his voice delicious. How odd that simply the idea of him as a lover could make a simple interchange so charged.

“Then the next,” she said softly, and, feeling daring, added, “I need you."

She didn’t return to Julia’s side, where she would have to fend off inquiries, jests and smirking glances. Instead, Caroline spent the next twenty minutes flitting through the crowd, chattering on about nothing and everything, and out of the corner of her eye admiring Sutbridge as he moved through the dance with yet another plump, youthful beauty.

Of course, she had no reason for jealousy. Until marriage, those flowers of young womanhood were off-limits for all but the most innocent of kisses, stolen under sprigs of mistletoe.

Was any kiss truly innocent? She pondered that briefly, the wayward thought leading further and further into uncharted territory only to end abruptly at the last strains of the orchestra’s efforts.

Then she watched Sutbridge escort the girl back to her simpering mother. He excused himself, meandered his way to the barrier of thin draperies that separated the drawing room from the balcony above the rear garden. Caroline waited a moment before following.

She brushed the diaphanous curtain aside and stepped out into the shadows, into the sound of the wind rustling through the greenery. There was no one out here in this cold, Stygian night but him, tucked even deeper into the shadows, away from prying eyes. She took three important steps toward him, heard the orchestra take up their instruments again with a ringing chord.

“Sutbridge,” she began, his name feeling suddenly foreign on her tongue. The moist, cold earth from the garden corner below them was heavy, cloying in the air, filling the darkness.

“You wanted to speak with me?”

She couldn’t read him. As usual, he stood there so negligently, leaning against the brick wall, one arm draped along the wrought iron. She wanted to step closer to his warmth, to breathe him in the way she secretly had on so many other occasions.

“I did,” she agreed, stalling. For all her brave speech back in the drawing room she had no idea how to propose an affair, to guide their aimless flirtation into something passionate. Perhaps Sutbridge no longer found her physically attractive at all. “I do.”

“The night is short,” he said, and there was an edge to his tone, the phrasing, everything oh-so-careful, as if he held something back.

“And you wish to return to the dancing,” she filled in for him. Offered a breezy smile, as if nothing mattered at all. She rested the gloved fingers of her left hand lightly on the railing, not so far from his. She shivered as the cold of the metal seeped into her fingers. It would be nothing to reach out a mere inch, to close the ridiculous distance between them. Once he had kissed her. Could he not be brought to do so again?

“No, Caro.”

Startled by the blunt words, she met his gaze. His eyes glittered fiercely in the dim light. He still leaned against the wall, but now she could see the tension coiled within him, the way every muscle of his body was held in stilled motion.

“No to what?” The air crackled between them, and excitement quickened within her. Aware of possibility, she inched her fingers forward, the tips just grazing the side of his.

His hand tightened around the iron and he moved, his body shifting forward, closing that space. Sutbridge towered over her and she leaned her head back to look at his face. She couldn’t see him well, could hardly distinguish the dark mahogany of his hair from the ink of the sky. But she knew the broad, strong planes of his face and the intensity of his brown eyes. Tonight, in the absence of light, her other senses were alive. He smelled of winter and perfumed water. She wanted to wrap her arms around his neck and lose herself in him.

“I need an heir. A legitimate heir.”

So he thought that was what she wanted. She smiled, put his mind at ease.

“Yes,” she agreed, for it was nothing more than the truth. “And I’m too old to give you one.”

“Hardly. I have no doubt you’re still quite fertile.” She was startled by a shiver of desire at his provocative words. “But you’ve made it very clear to everyone that you abhorred marriage.”

“I did,” she admitted, taking a small step toward him. Another slight movement and her body would be pressed to his, here on the balcony, where anyone could see. “But that isn’t what I want from you.”

She heard his sharp exhale of breath, wondered what it meant.

“I know it isn’t.” If he knew that, then why was he hesitating? At least the touch of his hand covering hers was more convincing than his words. The heat, the feeling of skin to skin across barriers of fine fabric, was the most intense sensation she had ever experienced in her life.

BOOK: Caroline and the Duke: A Regency Short Story
6.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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